Visual Activism

Bohemian painter Gottfried Lindauer was well known for his paintings of Maori people. Often using Maori chiefs and chieftesses as his subjects, Lindauer’s paintings have a sense of dignity and regality, highlighted through visual elements such as mere (hand held weapon made of treasured greenstone), huia feathers (of the now extinct bird), korowai (embroidered cloak), tā moko (tattoo identifying status), and heitiki (pendant symbolising fertility and whakapapa – genealogy) (Auckland Art Gallery). The following image, Pare Watene, is an example of how Lindauer portrays the mana (power and authority) of his subjects.

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Lindauer, Gottfired. Pare Watene.1878, oil on canvas, Auckland Art Gallery Toi ō Tamaki, http://www.lindaueronline.co.nz/maori-portraits/pare-watene

Lindauer uses lighting here to draw attention to the face. Her expression is serene, giving a sense of nobility. The composition is balanced through use of symmetry, asserting confidence and stability. We are shown through these techniques, as well as the imagery of various objects symbolizing status, that this woman is important. Along with his other works, Lindauer is preserving the dignity and mana of Maori, however, Maori are viewed very differently in contemporary society.

Michael Parekowhai’s addresses this change in perception with his sculpture ‘Poorman, Beggarman, Thief’.At first glance you see a man in a suit. Closer inspection reveals the man is brown and his “Hello my name is..” name tag identifies him as ‘Hori’ – the derogatory name for Māori. Parekowhai is showing how, despite his wearing a suit, a symbol of status and wealth, he is still just a Māori. In this way, he is challenging viewers to reflect on how Māori continue to be seen by society. The title of the piece alludes to the old folk rhyme ‘Tinker Tailor’, however, the titles given to this man are demeaning labels enforcing the Māori stereotype – poor, beggar, thief. I want the work I create to show the “privilege” of Māori but reveal on closer inspection that in actuality they are not.

At first glance you see a man in a suit. Closer inspection reveals the man is brown and his “Hello my name is..” name tag identifies him as ‘Hori’ – the derogatory name for Māori. His outfit and pose suggest wealth, class, and a strong social standing, yet this is all trivialized through identifying this man as ‘Hori’. Parekowhai is conveying how he is still just a Māori. In this way, he is challenging viewers to reflect on the current perception of Māori. The title of the piece alludes to the old folk rhyme ‘Tinker Tailor’, however, the titles given to this man are demeaning labels enforcing the Māori stereotype – poor, beggar, thief.

In reflecting on the creative work I make to respond to the issue of Māori ‘privilege’, I’ve decided to paint a portrait of a dignified Māori woman, alluding to Lindauer’s paintings of Māori. Similar to the way Parekowhai challenges viewers, I will paint the woman’s tā moko using statistics of current Māori representation in New Zealand’s health, justice, education and employment systems to illustrate the supposed ‘privilege’ Māori hold above non-Māori.

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